UK government implements new measures to support travel over the Christmas period
To ensure safe travel for passengers during the UK Christmas travel window, the government has outlined a range of new measures for transport, including enhancing rail services, postponing and accelerating rail engineering works and cutting ticket charges.
The UK government has outlined a series of measures focused on minimising disruption and helping people to travel safely over the Christmas period amidst COVID-19, while urging passengers to plan their journeys carefully, consider quieter routes and, where possible, book ahead.
Grant Shapps, the UK Transport Secretary, has announced a comprehensive plan for the Christmas travel window between 23 and 27 December 2020, including enhancing rail services, postponing and accelerating rail engineering works and cutting ticket charges to help travellers with their journeys.
The government is also working closely with transport operators to establish priority areas for the testing of workers, to maintain and maximise services.
As rail has typically been quieter over the course of the pandemic, journeys during the Christmas period could be longer and busier than usual. The measures that have been outlined are targeted at supporting passenger and staff safety, reducing disruption wherever possible and helping people to travel with confidence.
Travellers are also reminded to closely follow guidance, including wearing face coverings, maintaining social distancing and washing their hands frequently.
The UK Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, said: “With many people carefully considering whether to travel to see loved ones this Christmas, we’re taking steps to try to ease journeys. Postponing rail upgrade works will ease congestion, minimise disruption and allow extra services to run. That action is backed by scrapping the admin fees for changing advance rail tickets and ensuring a strong staff presence to help people on their way.”
“I’ve asked former Olympics transport boss and Chair of Network Rail, Sir Peter Hendy, to carry out a rigorous assessment alongside transport operators to ensure that everything possible is being done to help. We’re working with transport operators to help people see their loved ones safely. We ask everyone to closely consider their journey, plan and book ahead, be patient and be considerate of fellow passengers and, particularly, of staff – who have worked so hard all year – by following the guidance carefully, including keeping space and wearing a face covering on public transport,” he added.
The government is also working with the Devolved Administrations – Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – on its plans to ensure that an aligned approach, as far as possible, is agreed upon and taken.
Measures that have been outlined include:
- The government is waiving ‘change of journey’ admin fees for advance ticket purchases that were made before the new COVID-19 tiers were announced on 26 November 2020, enabling fee-free changes and ensuring that passengers are not left out of pocket for complying with the new COVID-19 restrictions
- Longer trains will run on Anglo-Scotland and Liverpool routes to boost the number of seats at anticipated busy times on the West Coast Main Line. Chiltern Railways will also run additional services on 27 December 2020 and East Midlands Railway will run a full intercity timetable over the Christmas period
- Over 95 per cent of the UK rail network will be unaffected by engineering works. Network Rail have altered their plans and the works on the East Coast Main Line will be postponed at the end of service, allowing additional services to and from King Cross on 24 December 2020. Works on the West Coast Main Line will also be completed earlier on the 27 December 2020 to enable a full Sunday service to run from 10:00 rather than 12:00, making it easier for passengers to return from their Christmas ‘bubbles’
- Rail engineering works – such as the East Coast Upgrade – have been planned for two years. Cancelling or delaying these works would see benefits to punctuality, safety and reliability deferred by up to two years. Significant extra road capacity will be in place where demand is greatest.
The government has appointed Sir Peter Hendy, Chairman of Network Rail, to act as a Christmas travel tsar. Providing rigorous scrutiny of the plans of all rail, road, coach, maritime and aviation operators, he will ensure a collective focus across the transport industry on minimising disruption and supporting passengers.
Sir Peter Hendy said: “Throughout the pandemic, the transport industry has been united in its efforts to keep passengers and staff safe. We must ensure that shared focus continues at this important time. The measures announced today will help ease congestion, boost capacity and minimise disruption for travellers. I will continue to work closely with all operators and offer recommendations that will see people home safely for Christmas.”
Travellers are being urged to closely consider the timings of any journey and consider quieter routes. On rail services, passengers should book in advance. Long-distance rail operators, including London North Eastern Railway (LNER) and Avanti West Coast, already require passengers to have a ticket booked with a seat reservation, enabling social distancing.
For operators where passengers can still turn up and go, passengers are urged to book ahead, follow the guidance on social distancing closely, avoid the busiest times and consider using alternative forms of transport for shorter journeys.
Whatever the journey, people are being asked to plan carefully, book ahead where possible and be prepared for journeys to take longer than normal.